50 neighbors downriver from Matilija Dam come out to express fears, concerns about project
By Sondra Murphy
Demolishing Matilija Dam is the easy part. The hard part is deciding where to put the enormous amount of silt and sediments built up behind the dam.
The county invited residents of one neighborhood impacted by the project to a meeting Wednesday at Nordhoff High School to discuss this and other issues.
The Ventura County Watershed Protection District is working with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to remove the dam. The dam has been a barrier between endangered southern steelhead trout and their historic spawning grounds since it was built 60 years ago as a flood-control project.
According to a feasibility study conducted by the Corps of Engineers in 2004, demolition is expected to occur sometime between 2010 and 2012 and will cost, including silt removal, more than $100 million.
Plans to construct a levee west of the properties on Oso Road, as well as a high-flow bypass for the Robles Diversion, were detailed by Ventura County Watershed Protection District’s Peter Sheydayi. He also addressed one of four potential storage sites for silt south of Meyer Road. About 50 people attended.
Also at the meeting were Doug Chitwood of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, project manager Darrell Buxton, environmental services manager Pam Lindsey, and Keith Filegar of the county’s Real Estate Services Division.
Several representatives of various water districts were in attendance, as well.
Conspicuously absent was County Supervisor Steve Bennett, whose valleywide disaster drill was taking place at the same time as the meeting, a scheduling blunder criticized by resident Jodi Heath.
Relocating the removed sediment in the amount of 2 to 6 million cubic yards will be no mean feat. The people who attended the meeting apprehensively sat through the first half hour of slide show presentation reviewing the history of the dam and asked a few questions as the anxiety among them grew more vocal. Besides doubt that the levee, planned to be built south of Meyer Road near the Ventura River trailhead, would serve to protect their community from flooding, several people expressed concern that the levee would, instead, increase the dangers of flooding to their homes and properties by changing the contours of the river bed.
Many were also angry that the project’s 23 participating agencies were now considering their river bottom neighborhood as a disposal area, something that was not addressed in a 2006 public meeting. Previous information indicated that an area near the Baldwin Road bridge would be the disposal site. That zone is still on the list of possibilities, as well as two others downstream near Foster Park.
Still in the design phase, the project also includes flow bypass pipes to move slurry from the dam area and around populated areas to rejoin the river. “Any features that involve construction, involve noise,” said Sheydayi. Several people questioned the odor factor during the process, but no answer was given.
Heath and others also asked about the truck traffic route for delivering dam materials into the proposed disposal site. “It hasn’t been decided yet,” answered Sheydayi, “but probably down Meyer Road … Right now, we’re working with Casitas as to where the route will be. A portion is on federal land and a portion is on OVLC land and a portion is on privately owned land.” Church of the Living Christ largely owns that private property. During the 2006 meeting, project coordinators mistakenly thought the property belonged to the Land Conservancy and so had ruled out the area for disposal.
After the meeting, resident Bob Collins summed up what others had voiced during the two-hour discussion. “They wanted to find a cheap place to dump the stuff,” he said. “They should take that silt and spread it thin. In my 50 years of construction, I’ve never seen it done like this. There are certain fundamental understandings in the industry we just don’t do and we don’t dump trash on people’s property.”
Well safety in the project area was also questioned, but none of the agency representatives had information about exact locations. “There are at least six to eight wells down there and they don’t know where they are,” complained resident Warren Davis.
As the meeting progressed, conversations overlapped, Tempers flared and no one expressed support for the project. Sheydayi informed the crowd that there would be a design oversight meeting on Oct. 2 at 9 a.m. at the VCWPD offices in their Saticoy conference room at 11251 B Riverbank Drive. “Obviously, everybody down river is going to have their own perspective and at those design meetings we will decide what criteria we will use to decide which disposal site to use,” Sheydayi said. For more details, go to matilijadam.org.